The sudden collapse of thawing soils in the Arctic might double the warming from greenhouse gases

Climate News Network:

“We are watching this sleeping giant wake up right in front of our eyes,” said Merritt Turetsky, an ecologist at the University of Guelph. “We work in areas where permafrost contains a lot of ice, and our field sites are being destroyed by abrupt collapse of this ice, not gradually over decades, but very quickly over months to years.”

“One-fourth of all the land in the northern half of the globe is defined as permafrost. This long-frozen soil is home to the detritus of life over many thousands of years: the remains of plants, animals and microbes. The permanently frozen soils of the region hold, so far in a harmless state, 1,600 billion tonnes of carbon: twice as much as exists in the atmosphere.”

“And as the Arctic warms, this could release ever-greater volumes of a potent greenhouse gas, to accelerate global warming still further, and the consequent collapse of the soil, the flooding and the landslides could change not just the habitat but even the contours of the high latitudes.” Read more . . .

Read the researcher’s article published in Nature (International Journal of Science) April 30, 2019 HERE. It is well worth the time. The first image of the Batagaika crater in eastern Russia is stunning. Look closely at the trees to get a feel for its size and character.

Abrupt thawing of permafrost is dramatic to watch. Returning to field sites in Alaska, for example, we often find that lands that were forested a year ago are now covered with lakes. Rivers that once ran clear are thick with sediment. Hillsides can liquefy, sometimes taking sensitive scientific equipment with them.

Internal Climate Migration – Part One: The Mobile and the Trapped

Over the next few weeks, I will be highlighting some of the issues surrounding migration and climate change. Among other resources, I will be drawing on a special 256 page report from the World Bank: Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration. This report addresses development issues of people being forced to move under distress to escape the long-term impacts of climate change. I will begin with the following quote from the report:


“The impacts associated with climate change are already shifting patterns of mobility and will increasingly do so. Because mobility is complex, driven by multiple, interacting processes that vary greatly over space and time, there is no straight line of causation from environmental stress to the movement of people. But climate change–driven pressure can directly and indirectly alter mobility patterns. In some cases, people migrate in an attempt to adapt to climate change. In others, the impacts of climate change will lead to movements under distress, induce displacement, or require planned relocation. Favorable environments attract people who are moving; people do not only move away from places of environmental stress, they are equally likely to move to them. Millions of people will be unable or unwilling to move from areas of environmental stress, rendering them immobile or “trapped”.”

Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, p. 1-2

Climate change and humanitarian crises

According to an analysis of more than a million online news stories, climate change was responsible for the majority of under-reported humanitarian disasters last year.

According to The Guardian, “whole populations were affected by food crises in countries ravaged by by drought and hurricanes such as Ethiopia and Haiti, yet neither crisis generated more than 1,000 global news stories each.”

Read The Guardian article HERE.

Under Water

People tend to respond to immediate threats and financial consequences – and Florida’s coastal real estate may be on the cusp of delivering that harsh wake-up call. Read THIS RECENT ARTICLE from The Guardian and, for a more detailed analysis, the following report by the Union of Concerned Scientists: Under Water: Rising Seas, Chronic Floods, and the Implications for US Coastal Real Estate (2016). According to the report:

Properties will not be the only things to flood. Roads, bridges, power plants, airports, ports, public buildings, military bases, and other critical infrastructure along the coast also face the risk of chronic inundation. The direct costs of replacing, repairing, strengthening, or relocating infrastructure are not captured in our analysis, nor do we account for the indirect costs of flooded infrastructure, including disruptions to commerce and daily life (Neumann, Price, and Chinowsky 2015; NCA 2014; Ayyub and Kearney 2012). Taken together, these costs of chronic flooding of our coastal built environment—both property and infrastructure—could have staggering economic impacts.

143 Million Climate Refugees by 2050

According to the World Bank, internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change. Their recent report, “Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration“, shows that, without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 143 million people move within their countries’ borders between now and 2050.

This study is one of its kind. It is comprehensive and up to date. The number ‘143 million’ does not include migration and displacement from other causes, such as extreme events, like hurricanes. Nor does it include cross-border migration. It is a little known fact that, globally, there are three times more people that move within countries than across borders. About 750 million people move internally, and around 250 million move across borders. These are not the migrants studied in this report: In most cases, these are economic, social, and political migrants. This report is about slow and persistent climate impacts that are bearing down on people, forcing them to move to another location.

The poorest people will be forced to move due to slow-onset climate change impacts, including: decreasing crop productivity, shortage of water, and rising sea levels. But if we act now, we could decrease the number of people forced to move due to climate change by as much as 80%, or 100 million people.

In order to do this, we would have to cut greenhouse gases now, imbed climate migration in development planning, and invest now to improve understanding of internal climate migration. The following 4 minute video is a good introduction to the problem.

Download the World Bank report: Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration (256p).

The report identifies “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration. These include climate-vulnerable areas from which people are expected to move, and locations into which people will try to move to build new lives and livelihoods.

I highly recommended the following 16 minute interview with Kanta Kumari Rigaud, Lead Environmental Specialist at the World Bank:

Oil and gas investments are increasing

Thanks to Nick Garland for alerting me to this important and disturbing article from The Economist, February 9, 2019: “ExxonMobil gambles on growth” Read it and weep.

Here are a few  take-aways from the article : On February 1st ExxonMobil announced its annual results, declaring itself on track for ambitious growth. By 2025, oil and gas production will be 25% higher than in 2017. Note also that, in 2017, renewable energy shares fell for the first time. In 2018, carbon emissions in America grew by 3.4%. New York’s pension fund will not divest from ExxonMobil because it generates such good returns. The shareholdings of the world’s 20 largest institutional investors in big oil companies climbed from 24% in 2014 to 27% in 2017, according to the International Energy Agency.

This is the capitalist system at work: BAU = Business As Usual. Should we expect a sacrifice from anyone, or a recognition that this is all unsustainable?

Nevertheless, I agree with  Mr. Woods, Head of ExxonMobil, when he maintains that any change to the energy supply will be gradual. He says: “I don’t think people can readily understand just how large the energy system is, and the size of that energy system will take time to evolve. . . .”

Yes, the energy system is large, it is gargantuan, and will not evolve or be transformed in time to avert a catastrophe. Thank you, Mr. Woods, et al.

How Climate Change Effects Rice Farmers in the Mekong Delta

This brief but poignant video (4 min.) explains the effects of climate change induced sea level rise contaminating the lowland rice paddies with salt water and killing the rice crops. (Thanks to Nick Garland)

Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of rice and 80 per cent of it is grown in the Mekong Delta, a vast flood plain and one of Asia’s most fertile agricultural zones. But farmers here say the future of rice production is now threatened because of rising sea levels and temperature increases attributed to climate change.